RTS musings

I’ve been thinking about RTS games recently, in part as the idiom of choice for my next rules essay. Although I haven’t played any of the latest generation of RTS games (the ones which require a monster system with a 3D video card, i.e. the ones that won’t run on my 4 year old laptop) I get the sense that they’re still the same beast, half resource management, half balance between offensive and defensive strategy.
One of the shortcomings of the genre is the shallowness of the [in-game] production infrastructure. The construction of units is simply a matter of consuming resources. Some games incorporate some kind of maintenance cost, some small amount of resource consumption per time unit or an overall limit on the number of active units. But changes to the battlefield don’t really have any effect on active units — if, in Starcraft, the enemy destroys my barracks, I don’t lose any active marines, I only lose the ability to produce more marines.

RTS units don’t require a deep infrastructure, they have only immediate and basic needs. One of the results is that the most basic RTS strategy is to simply build a lot of units to obliterate the enemy. Who cares if, in the long run, this mighty army is un-sustainable? By the time that becomes a problem, you will have won the mission/level, and will go on to the next one.
Now compare the toy world of an RTS game to the real world. In Iraq, for example, you’ve got a large force of soldiers, a number of whom are in the US national guard. It would be great to think that, once the mission is complete, that mighty army could simply be dismantled and effectively disappear. But alas, this real world (as opposed to Real Time) situation requires long term involvement. The “consumption of resources” (filling out the ranks of the national guard) is matched by a necessary investment in infrastructure (health care and pensions for the guard).
What if someone designed an RTS game that worked in a simliar way? What if, for every soldier unit you produced in the game, you would have to provide a long-term investment in that unit? I think the most obvious strategy for playing that sort of game would be to simply kill off you excess units once the enemy had been defeated, in order to save on maintenance costs.
Either that, or look around for some other use, some other invasion, for your army to handle. And I guess that is what RTS games do, with their progressive missions. Keep fighting. Escalate the conflict.

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